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Interview with Paul Ingarfield – Principal of Park Lane International School

Park Lane International School opened its secondary campus this September in Malá Strana, Prague 1 with its primary school in Střešovice, Prague 6, and pre-school in Prague 5, having been open longer. The creation of a new secondary school meant a new principal and teachers had to be recruited and the board turned to Paul Ingarfield with his previous experience of leading an international school in the Middle East to take charge.  

“I've been in Prague for a year and a bit now,” says Mr Ingarfield. “Prior to that I was the principal of a school in Amman, Jordan, and my wife, who teaches French here in the secondary school, was a French teacher at another school there. The school in Jordan had around 1500 students and we had quite a large number of international children. A lot of them were Jordanian elite, sons and daughters of the royal family, Prime Minister etc. They were the kind of students aspiring to go to Western universities mostly in the United States, UK and some to Canada.”

It’s quite a different situation to the one he’s in now at Park Lane, which currently only has one Year 7 class of 27 children. To improve the school environment they’ve moved across a class each from years 2 to 6 from the primary school, but it’s still a lot smaller than what he has been used to. Of course in a few years time when the secondary school has filled up it will be different, yet due to the size of the building and what they are aiming to achieve they don’t intend to have more than 200 pupils.

“It's a very different school. Imagine going from a vast school of 1500 pupils with 300 people taking external exams every year. There were 100 doing IGCSEs, 100 doing AS Levels and 100 doing A2 Levels. That was bizarre to come to what was essentially a small primary school growing into a secondary. But it has been a completely different challenge, from dealing with University applicants and 15/16-year-old discipline cases, to this. I'm very pleased that I made that move.”

He had been the head of English and Drama at the school in Jordan for a while but left for a year before being recruited back and offered the position of Director of Secondary in 2003. Five years later in 2008 he was made the entire school Principal. After spending 12 years in the country, which included the birth of his son, Paul and his family wanted to move back to Europe so he jumped at the opportunity to come to Prague.

“Prior to working in Jordan I worked in West London, teaching English and Drama as well,” he continues. “This is actually my second career, before that I worked for the Ministry of Defence for several years. People used to say 'you ought to get into teaching' because I used to do a lot of training courses even when I was there years ago and I've never regretted the change.

“I went off to do my teaching qualifications in my 30s through Kings College London, which was a good place to be at the time as the school of education there had some groundbreaking individuals with particular approaches on assessment, how we measure progress, avoid summative testing, interact and work more on children assessing their own progress. All of that's had a really big impact on teaching and learning methods across the spectrum. A lot of that came out of King's in the 90s and it was wonderful these people were my professors so it was quite inspiring.”

This inspiration has clearly had an impact in helping Mr Ingarfield get where he is today, and while being in charge of a new secondary school is no easy task he is still full of enthusiasm and ambition that will help it be successful. Having hand-picked the new teaching staff himself has allowed him to choose people that will fit nicely into the plan of ensuring the school achieves its aims while remaining relatively small and tight-knit.

“Ultimately a school will be judged on the quality of teaching and learning so I like to be hands on, get into the classrooms to observe teachers, sit with them and discuss different methods and strategies. It is a small secondary team but the joy of it is that they've been selected by me. I had to pick people who were ready to work in effectively a kind of start-up secondary school, that were versatile, able to offer more than one subject, ready to roll their sleeves up. Most of the secondary teachers do playground duties with the primary and that's not for everyone.”

Mr Ingarfield himself still teaches English and Drama at the moment, as well as fulfilling his duties in leading the school. He realises as they continue to expand he will end up in mainly a principal role, but the possibility of keeping his hand in a bit will still be there. However, it will be another year or so before they have to think about making any big additions to the school as things will really start to mushroom when the current Year 7 class reaches Year 9.    

“It would probably be difficult for me next year to manage the whole school issues and teach Year 7 and 8,” he says. “I mean there's no reason why I couldn't teach a little bit and keep my hand in but with the doubling up of next year, with two year groups and probably four classes instead of two, we would be recruiting an English teacher for sure to help me out. Again that person would probably have to offer something else like Drama as well.” 

In the meantime Park Lane International School will be holding a Winter Market on Saturday 14th December, so for anyone wanting a look round the newly opened school this is a great opportunity.

For more information about Park Lane International School:
To read a further article about the school: Park Lane International School 

By Graham Matthews

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